The Impacts of Distance Learning on Mental Health

Spring Semester 2020 was the last time many students were physically inside of a classroom. With on-going spikes of the Covid-19 pandemic, many institutions have had to resort to unorthodox and sometimes drastic measures to ensure the safety of the students, staff, and community. Whether in-person or distance learning, both have had substantial effects on the mental health of those involved, and neither offers an ideal substitution of what was once normal.

In many locations, distance learning has been the only option offered as communities struggle to control climbing infection rates. With much focus on the virus, the importance of students’ mental well-being seems to hardly be a pressing topic. Increased academic workloads to compensate for in-person instruction have become a typical complaint among students coupled with fewer resources and quality hands-on instruction; specifically with math and science. In addition to the coursework, isolation has been another major issue with distance learning, specifically with secondary and college-aged students. Students at this age are developing much of their identity through social interaction. During this time, they learn to work in a societal unit and form peer bonds, all of which are hindered by the current lack of peer contact. As mentioned in an article by The Higher Education, Wellness and Mental Health in 2020 Online Learning, this can cause anxiety and depression. In some rare instances, even suicides have been attributed to the isolation of distance learning.

In-person learning comes with its own set of problems. Mask mandates, solitary seating, and plexiglass desk shields are hardly part of the typical school landscape. Back to back quarantines have contributed to the feelings of isolation coupled with instructional inconsistencies as students navigate in-person and distance learning. In addition to the academic toll, extracurricular activities have also been crippled due to frequent cancellations. Missed proms, graduations, and other milestones are leaving many students resentful and angry. All of these things can be detrimental to a developing adolescent mind and have also been linked to cases of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

The long-term effects of distance learning on mental health haven’t yet fully been observed, but like past adaptations that have shaped a generation, this will also be studied and discussed in future classrooms; perhaps even virtually.

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